1978's Superman: The Movie, by Richard Donner, is one of the most beloved superhero films of all time. 1980's Superman II is considered by many to be a worthy sequel, though most fans prefer Richard Donner's director's cut, which didn't see release until 2006. 1983's Superman III, however, is held with much less regard, and was seen by fans as an example of profit-minded producers (Alexander and Ilya Salkind) running a series into the ground. And let's not even get started with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
In an earlier piece, we discussed a 1980s version of The Avengers, starring Bill Bixby and Burt Reynolds. What if, as a response to the runaway success of that hypothetical 80s film series, Richard Donner, after somehow making peace with the Salkinds, got to make his own sequel, and what if that sequel was to incorporate the entire Justice League? With the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice giving us a sneak peek of the League, what thought about what it would have looked like in decades past.
Let's use our over-active imaginations and see what our inner casting agent comes up with. Here is what the Justice League might have looked like if it was cast in the 1980s!
Nobody looks more believable in the iconic red and blue suit than the great Christopher Reeve, who single-handedly made us believe a man could fly. His performance as Superman in Richard Donner's masterpiece is nothing less than transcendent. However, when it comes to Clark Kent, we tend to prefer the tougher George Reeves portrayal of the journalist alter ego. But, since our Justice League film will be an epic ensemble picture, there surely won't be much time for Superman's day job at The Daily Planet. Instead, Superman, as the figurehead of the Justice League, has to be the tip of the spear for whatever conflict the team faces, both in diplomacy and inevitable combat. It is an action movie, after all.
Moreover, since this movie is serving as a sequel to Superman II, we will also be keeping Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, as well as the rest of the supporting cast from those classics.
We thought about including Michael Keaton as Batman and connecting the Richard Donner and Tim Burton DC universes, but ultimately concluded that we wanted something a little more realistic than the gothic architecture of Tim Burton's Batman film, and an actor with a more personable manner than the wired and manic Keaton.
Enter Richard Gere. Take a look at Gere in films like Breathless, American Gigolo, and Pretty Woman, and you'll see that he could have made a perfect Bruce Wayne. He's broad-shouldered, confident, and firm, yet soft-spoken. Indeed, he would be an interesting foil for Christopher Reeve's Superman, with Gere's gritty 80s cynicism playing very strongly against the proud old-school sensibilities of the Rockwell-esque farmboy from Kansas.
We're pretty sure Sigourney Weaver is already an Amazon warrior princess, so playing Wonder Woman would simply be a walk in the park for her. Wonder Woman was previously portrayed by Lynda Carter in the 1970s television series, and, though she is iconic in the role, we think that Sigourney would have been a perfect choice to play the character on the big screen.
Her lanky and angular frame would give her an intimidating on-screen presence, especially if they retained some form of the character's skin-tight outfit. However, we would expect our hypothetical film to incorporate a more armored design, like that of Gal Gadot in the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. If Sigourney Weaver can take down an Alien Queen, we have no doubt in her ability to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with DC's bravest and boldest.
Martian Manhunter is one our favorite Justice League members, and it was a delight to see him make a surprise appearance in CBS's Supergirl. Louis Gosset Jr. won an Oscar for his role in An Officer and a Gentleman, starring Richard Gere, and we would have loved to see them share the screen in The Justice League, with Gosset playing J'onn J'onnz, crack detective by day, green spaceman by night.
Gosset has the quiet nobility to carry the character, traditionally a wise outsider content to watch Earth from a distance, personally intervening only when absolutely necessary. He's the stern voice of reason in the Justice League's clash of diverse personalities, and we believe that in any era, only Louis Gosset Jr. has the stern gravitas necessary to truly be the glue which keeps the JLA from imploding in on itself.
Aquaman is sometimes dismissed as the corny member of the Justice League, whose most impressive feat is the ability to talk to dolphins. The casting of Jason Momoa in Batman V Superman is an attempt to inject some badass credibility to the character, and his appearance in the acclaimed fighting video game, Injustice: Gods Among Us, raised some eyebrows with regard to how the miracle workers at Netherrealm Studios managed to make Aquaman's traditional appearance cool again.
But for his appearance in our 1980s JLA film, we'd rather embrace the inherent cheesiness of the character with Sam Jones, star of the so-bad-it's-good Flash Gordon, a sheer masterpiece of campy silliness. We want our '80s Aquaman to be the outlier, the campy side-hero who appears out-of-place alongside titans like Superman and Martian Manhunter, but who always comes through in a pinch and can be counted on to sic sharks and giant squids on his enemies. He can be silly and badass at the same time, embracing the camp and being even stronger because of it.
Green Arrow is basically a progressive version of the more conservative Batman. While usually a billionaire, we'd like our version of Green Arrow to borrow from the Dennis O'Neil version of the character, who is stripped of his wealth and becomes a working class hero to the poor and downtrodden. This would help to separate the Green Arrow from Batman, who is often more associated with fear than justice, depending on who one asks.
To play this new version of the Green Arrow, we'd like to see Kevin Costner don the green hood. Our version of the character is basically an even more righteous version of Robin Hood, and Kevin Costner starred as the title character in 1991's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, so playing Green Arrow would be a perfect fit for Costner. We had considered casting Kevin as Aquaman, but the Waterworld jokes would have derailed this entire article.
Don't you get a Tom Cruise vibe from Grant Gustin on CW's The Flash? Because we sure do. Then there's the gift that keeps on giving, the meme that Tom Cruise runs in nearly every movie he's ever appeared in, regardless of whether they're action films or not. He runs in Collateral with a gun, he runs in Mission: Impossible III with a cell phone, and he runs in The Last Samurai with two swords, and those examples barely scratch the surface of Tom Cruise running in his films.
With that in mind, Tom Cruise is the only choice to play The Flash. In fact, at this point, we're fairly confident that Tom Cruise had been auditioning to play The Flash since he first started acting, and that the biggest disappointment in his entire life has been the fact that he never got to portray the Scarlet Speedster. With Ezra Miller playing a young Barry Allen in The Justice League, it seems he may never get the chance... Maybe he could be Jay Garrick?
Yes, we know, Cyborg in the 80s was mostly known for being a member of the Teen Titans, but it's our movie, and if we're time-traveling, we can bring minor elements of the New 52, such as Cyborg's status as a founding member of the Justice League, into our fantasy film.
With that disclaimer out of the way, how awesome would Theo Huxtable look as a silver-fisted half-robot with a serious chip on his shoulder? Cyborg is a high-school football star who, after a freak accident nearly kills him, is reassembled using robotic parts, not unlike Darth Vader, although Cyborg's first appearance actually predates the reveal of Darth Vader's own disfigurement. Cyborg, being the youngest member of our cast, would be the impressionable youth whose own fate is dependent on the moral choices of his allies, something they all will have to keep in mind when the tough choices need to be made... We're looking at you, Batman.
We took a hard look at 2011's Green Lantern and asked, "Who could have done that in the '80s, but also make it not terrible?" And we decided upon Don Johnson, the coolest star of the 1980s. He is just as charming as Ryan Reynolds, but he would bring to the role a rugged 1980s edge which Reynolds lacks. We love Ryan, but the man is likable to a fault; even as an avocado-faced, mass-murdering, ex-mercenary in Deadpool, he's still cute as a button. Plus, the lack of CGI in the 80s means that the Green Lantern Corps won't be forced to wear the bizarre animated suits from that very unfortunate 2011 misfire.
In our '80s Avengers list, we placed Johnson's Miami Vice co-star, Philip Michael Thomas, in the role of Falcon, so casting Johnson here would also add a fun degree of fandom rivalry, with fans of the television series split between DC and Marvel... Of course they'll still be watching both, so everybody wins.
The Hal Jordan/John Stewart debate is as legendary as the debate of Batman/Superman, or even Marvel/DC. However, we can take solace in the fact that the only thing cooler than one Green Lantern is two Green Lanterns. In our 80s version of a Justice League film, we'd have Denzel Washington be Don Johnson's brother-in-arms.
Denzel Washington is one of those incredibly gifted actors who can do absolutely anything, but we looked to his performance in 1989's The Mighty Quinn as a great example of what we want to see from John Stewart: he's tough and absolutely dedicated to his job, but is also affable and knows how to have fun. He's not as deadly serious and downright humorless as Superman in Man of Steel, but also not as trite and jokey as 2011's Green Lantern. Washington would imbue our 1980s Justice League film with spirit and humor, but also go into full-on badass mode once the proverbial excrement hits the fan.
While we really don't like the idea of Batman stalking gangsters with a little kid in tow, we understand that Robin is an integral part of the Batman mythology, so we'll just jump straight to Dick Grayson's post-Robin identity as Nightwing, who defends Gotham City when Batman is on vacation. In a further bit of more meta-mythology, we've cast Val Kilmer in the role.
He's a full ten years younger than Richard Gere, which is roughly the same age difference between Kilmer and Chris O'Donnell, who played Dick Grayson in 1995's Batman Forever. With Batman tied up in the Justice League, we'd like to see Nightwing as his "man on the street" in Gotham, someone who'll keep things in order while Batman is off dealing with bigger threats. Perhaps even fighting against Harley Quinn, who should absolutely be played by Madonna, by the way.
There's only one villain truly worthy of the attention of the entire Justice League, and it's Darkseid. In our 80s Avengers story, we cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as Thanos (fun fact: Thanos's appearance was directly inspired by Darkseid), so the only choice to play Darkseid is the one man who could theoretically beat 1980s Arnold in a fight. That man, of course, is Sylvester Stallone. Darkseid is basically Space-Hitler with muscles, and Stallone, contrary to opinion, has the acting chops to make that character believable and intimidating, rather than caricatured and oafish. Just check out films like Cobra and Nighthawks to see how Stallone could conceivably transform Darkseid into a compelling and unique character.
Now that we think of it, we wouldn't mind seeing Stallone inhabit the role when Darkseid inevitably shows up in Zack Snyder's own, actually real Justice League movies. He'll need to be different from characters like Doomsday or Thanos whose great strength comes from their ability to punch really hard; Darkseid often takes great pains to avoid entering combat himself, with his indoctrination tactics and the subsequent loyalty of his people being his greatest weapons against humanity.
Your move, Snyder.
What do you think of our casting? Would you have gone to see this movie in the 80s? What heroes and villains would you have added to the roster? Sound off in the comments below!